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Blackboard @ RDC

This guide will help you use Blackboard for your courses.

How to Learn Online

Tips and Strategies

Recent events have forced students to adjust in unanticipated ways. Classes have moved online and many students are taking social distancing or self-isolating measures. Campus closure can present a stressful challenge for everyone. It’s important to take care of yourself and be flexible with yourself and others. Routines have changed. With the transition of moving coursework to an online platform, you will need to find ways to create structure for yourself in order to succeed as an online learner. You will also need to recognize that you, your classmates, and your instructors will have to be patient and work together during this time. 

If some of your classes move to a format that does not require you to be online at a specific time, you may not feel the same pressure to structure your life around your coursework. Try to develop new strategies and adjust your strengths to complete your assignments and prepare for tests and exams. Check the document below for some guidance on how to succeed as an online learner.

Develop good habits to manage your workload.  

Treat an online course like a “real” course: Devote consistent chunks of time to the class. Online courses are attractive to students because they offer flexibility in learning. However, this flexibility can sometimes cause students to delay working through the course material, thinking they’ll find time later in the week. Online coursework requires you to make the time for it. 

  • Review the syllabus for each of your courses. Using a calendar or term planner, create mini-deadlines for completing your assignments to avoid last minute rushes.
  • Using a weekly schedule, plan consistent blocks of time during the week that you can devote to coursework. Stick to this schedule. Don’t fall for the temptation to procrastinate. It is important to establish a consistent routine for yourself.
  • Make daily “to do” lists to assign priorities to each of your tasks. 

If you find yourself procrastinating, sometimes it just means you are unmotivated, but it could also mean you are overwhelmed. For small tasks, it's important to think long-term. Do your small tasks contribute to your long-term goal? Work on smaller tasks for at least five minutes. Often, this will help you find the momentum you need to complete a task. If your task is a regular weekly task, plan to do it at the same time each week. For bigger tasks, break them down into small, manageable chunks. Don't expect perfection, and make sure you ask for help. 

With the shift to learning online, it is not only important to develop good habits and a daily structure, but it is also very important to set up a productive environment in which to study and access your online material. When creating your study environment, ask yourself:

  • Do you have enough space to spread out your textbooks and notes?
  • Do you have enough light?
  • Is your chair comfortable?
  • Have you removed distractions (e.g. cell phone, TV, etc.)?
  • Is it too noisy, or too quiet?
  • Is your space cluttered or not tidy enough?

When accessing online classes, prepare your mind the same way you would for face-to-face classes. Think about what space is right for you and take time to organize it. 

  • Prepare your study space by having necessary materials (pens, papers, textbooks, etc.) easily accessible.
  • Set up an appropriate study space that is separate from your "home space" (when possible).
  • Make sure to have a charger handy and situate yourself close to a power outlet. It is helpful to sit at a desk, table or counter instead of on your couch or bed (if possible).  
  • Use a mouse/separate screen, if available.  
  • Dress the same way you would for an in-person class. This often gives you a sense of purpose and helps you to set the divide between home and your online class.
  • Align your routine with that of your family members and fellow housemates, to allow you to study effectively with minimal interruptions. By sharing your schedule, this will inform others when you are "in class" or studying. 
  • If you can't ensure a quiet space while you are attending (synchronous) online lectures, remember to mute your microphone so you do not disturb others. You can always switch your microphone on when you need to speak. 

Having a structured space will help you to stay focused during your "online class time". 

Students are doing more reading online through digital devices than they ever have before. It's important to develop online/digital reading strategies to ensure that you are engaging deeply with the digital text in the same way you would when reading information printed on paper.

Those who prefer to read print material often have a more interactive, linear experience because they can flip pages, remember where information was located on a page, highlight and write in margins. In contrast, digital reading is non-linear because it takes place on a flat screen; reading often takes more self-control and focus, to navigate through hyperlinked information. 

The key to getting yourself to read deeply in any reading format is to ensure you:

  • Focus and organize main ideas. Often instructors will list learning objectives to help you to focus on key ideas that are being taught.  Think about:
    • Why am I being asked to read this?
    • What am I supposed to get out of this?
    • How will I remember what I just read?
  • Engage with the text in meaningful ways. In a digital world, it is important to disrupt the pattern of skipping around and getting lost in the big wide world of the internet when reading online. Break down complex text for yourself and develop a system for taking notes, whether using pen and paper, or your device. You can often use a notes feature on your device (or converting the document, article or book to PDF) so that you can take notes and highlight while you read the text. 
  • Recall information in a way to ensure you understand the material, can respond to it and remember it. Check that you can recall what you read as you go along. You can often do this by saying it aloud. You may find that other methods, like writing brief summary notes, help you with this recall. Synthesizing and summarizing the material in your own words ensure that you understand the material and have given it deep thought.  
  • Reflect on what you have learned. When you've finished reading, review the material you highlighted or took note of. Reflect on key words you identified and your thoughts, questions or other notes taken. Reflect on how you might need this information or knowledge in the future. Will you be tested on it? Will you have to complete an assignment or write an essay?

The important point of reading, whether it is through digital or print, is to ensure you have a deep understanding and ability to remember the material.  Please see the link below for an effective reading strategy to help you make the most of your reading.

When writing online or "take home" exams, it is important to review and understand the format of the exams. Clarify with your instructor the format of the exam, type of exam, specifications, software that may be required and how it works, and the time allotted. Some exams may be timed. Exams may be scheduled at a particular time or open for a range of time, from a few hours to a few days.  

Technology Considerations:

When preparing and writing an online exam be sure to:

  • Check your device, Internet connection, and browser
  • Master the process to access and login to the exam
  • Learn how to navigate through the exam
  • Know what you need to do after you have finished answering the questions (i.e. save your answers, submit your exam, etc.)

If your exam is only open for a few hours, you should prepare as you would for an in-person exam. Create some practice exams by using old assignments or tests; practice writing them under time constraints to practice your recall of information.  

If your exam is "open book", be sure to spend time prior to the exam to organize your notes and resources (e.g. textbooks, online materials, etc.) so that you can easily reference materials when necessary. This will prevent you from wasting time finding information that could have been easily organized ahead of time. 

If your exam is open for a few days, treat it like a final project or essay. Before the exam is released, do some research and preparation on potential topics. Be sure to budget some time before you start your exam to do an outline. Before you submit the exam, budget time to proofread and edit your work.

For further support with exam preparation, check out additional resources here.